Remember the post I made a while back about the short film Fitna made by Dutch MP Geert Wilders? In that post, I condemned that film for its amateurish over-simplification of the facts around Islam and pointed out that it’s just as easy to find nasty stuff written for a more barbaric time from the Christian Bible. This time around though, I find myself having to defend him because I do think that this is a free speech issue and hateful as his message is, he has a right to express his views.
As far as I can tell, the British government basically offers two basic justifications for denying Wilders entry into the UK:
- Free speech does not extend to shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre and Wilders’ message amounts to that.
- Allowing Wilders to enter the UK and express his views would threaten the public security of the country.
To the first justification, I retort that Wilders’ message in no way resembles shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre. One of the defining characteristics of the crowded theatre scenario is that it compels people to take immediate action. There is no such immediacy here and all parties will have plenty of time to reflect upon Wilders’ message before making any decisions or taking any action. Furthermore, freedom of speech is curtailed in the crowded theatre scenario only if the speaker is falsely shouting “fire”. If the theatre actually is on fire, the speaker does have the right to shout “fire”. This means that the authorities must actually prove that Wilders is making a statement that is factually incorrect to deny him freedom of speech.
The second justification basically amounts to caving in to potential terrorist threats. The line of thought seems to be that if the UK allows Wilders in to spread his message, it would make the UK a higher priority target for terrorist attacks than it already is. That’s a pretty sad position for a democracy to take. The responsibility for any attacks made by terrorists lies only on the terrorists. As abhorrent as Wilders’ message is, as far as I know, he has never advocated any violent action against Muslims. All that he has done is to try to change the laws of the Netherlands to better respond to what he sees as a threat to his country.
I happen to disagree with his assessment but from my point of view, he has done nothing that would justify depriving him of his rights. The correct response to someone like Wilders is not to prevent him from speaking. It is to ignore what he says. By making a big fuss of Wilders’ attempts to speak in the UK, the British government has simply played into his hand and given him what he really wanted all along: more publicity than he deserves.